Expectations Vs. Reality: Japan

March 2017 - Mt. Fuji, Japan
A view from Mt. Kachikachi ropeway

Japan never really made it on my travel priority list. I find it as one of the tourist-trapped, stereotyped countries every one wants to go to especially during the Sakura season. I can't blame them. Apart from the Sakura, Tokyo has a lot of touristy, instagrammable spots to see. 

But because of a dear friend's invitation, I had to visit Japan last March and I am going to take back most (if not all) of the things I thought about what it would be like.

Expectation: Japan is all about the Sakura.

Reality: It is way more than just the Sakura.

While most people go there during Spring for the picturesque cherry blossom, this country has a lot more to offer. Traveling to Lake Kawaguchiko and seeing the majestic Mt. Fuji was definitely the highlight of my trip. If given more time, I would have loved to explore more of the outskirts of Tokyo and see its more scenic views that you wouldn't even expect are in Japan.

Lake Kawaguchiko

Tip: Take the Kawaguchiko Sightseeing Bus. It costs 1,340 Yen for 2 days and
will take you around Kawaguchiko with various spots to stop.

at The World Heritage Fujisan - one of the stops of the sight seeing bus.

Tip of the Mt. Fuji as seen from our sightseeing bus.

Expectation: Japanese food is all about ramen and sushi.

Reality:  Japanese Street Food is what everyone should try. 

As I have mentioned on my previous blogs, I am not a foodie when traveling and would gladly settle for cup noodles if need be. However, Japanese street foods have piqued my appetite. The most exciting part of trying a few of these is that I don't exactly know what they are! All of those I have tried had a very rich flavour to them and were cheap too. Believe it or not, I didn't even have the opportunity to eat sushi and only had ramen once during my 7-day trip.


the locals making Takoyaki

Expectation: Shopping in Japan is expensive.

Reality: There are cheap shopping place options like Daiso and their street markets.

I don't usually shop when traveling except for souvenirs, but I had fun just strolling around their shops especially Daiso. They just have the cutest things you don't even need but you will be tempted to buy.

                                             Ameyayokocho - a street market
                                         near Ueno Park
Souvenirs at Asakusa Temple Market

Expectation: Complicated Train System

Reality: Complicated Train System (Metro)

Daimon Metro Station

It is inevitable not to compare the ease of Singapore transportation system when traveling and that quite frustrated me having to use the metro in Japan. Most of the stations we had to go to don't have any lifts to be used especially for tourists with large luggages! The flight of stairs was not easy as well (could be three floors or more). It didn't make things easier for first time travellers like us that some of the train stations' ticketing system were reliant on prices and not on the actual station name! So as a tip, you have to know the price of the station where you will be alighting to make it easier for you. 

An example of a typical Japanese metro ticket counter
photo credit: https://randomwire.com

How are their toilets more improved than their metro system?

Taxi was very expensive so it was already out of our options to choose from. They don't use Uber or Grab as well, and even if they did, having asked the locals around, they are not familiar with these life-saving-apps.

Expectation: It will be difficult to communicate because of the language barrier.

Reality: It was difficult to communicate with the locals.

I was already expecting this having read on my research but I was still culture shocked having to experience first hand with the locals. While most of them were very polite and would gladly help you with directions even if you do not ask them directly, I still had a rude experience with a tourist information officer who couldn't understand my query. She can speak english but really couldn't comprehend well.

On our first night, we lost almost an hour trying to find our accomodation because the taxi driver had it mistaken to another hotel. The frustrating part is they will still speak in straight Nihongo while giving me the impression (based on their tone) that they are frustrated with tourists who don't know a thing about their country. 

Still, with hand gestures and broken English, we survived.

Typical street in Tokyo where most of the signages are in Nihongo

Even though it was a brief vacation, I still enjoyed seeing a side of Japan. Most of my expectations of it were not really met and I would probably be back to explore the other prefectures.

Enjoying the scenic view at Lake Kawaguchiko.